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Decreasing crime rates creating a safer Valley

Date: 10/13/2010

Oct. 13, 2010

By Katelyn Gendron

Assistant Editor

GREATER SPRINGFIELD -- Law enforcement officials are getting back to basics in many municipalities, having set benchmarks in crime reduction since 1999.

The number of aggravated assaults, burglaries, and forcible rapes has decreased significantly in Chicopee and Springfield over the past 10 years. Other communities in Western Massachusetts, such as Holyoke, aren't as lucky, tallying increases in the number of major crimes, according to the FBI's 2009 Uniform Crime Report (UCR).

"If you're not inundated with crime related calls, you can go back to your original roots of providing other services to the community," Capt. Michael McCabe of the Westfield Police Department, explained. "You can get back to real problem solving for the long term [reduction of crime]."

The department's crackdown on drug and gang-related crimes during the 1990s lent itself to statistical decreases in crime rates, McCabe said.

"It sent a message on the street level that that kind of activity isn't tolerated," Det. Lt. Dave Ragazzini of the Westfield Police Department, said of the crackdown.

Westfield tallied 285 aggravated assaults in 1999 as opposed to 2009's total of 56, according to the UCR; the number of burglaries and larceny-theft also decreased from 211 to 157 and from 509 to 496, respectively.

Westfield officers are now able to focus more on partnering with community organizations to promote social services due to decreased crime rates, McCabe explained. "There are real advantages to having cops in the social services arena interfacing with the health department, mayor's office, etc.," he added.

Westfield has not seen a decrease in every type of crime, however, tallying an increase in forcible rapes and robberies since 1999, from nine to 20 and nine to 15, respectively. "This is one of the very few times that you see the economy causing people to commit crime such as petty crime because they can't make ends meet," McCabe said.

Sgt. John Delaney of the Springfield Police Department attributed the city's decrease in aggravated assaults, burglaries and forcible rapes to a methodical, statistical-driven, street-by-street approach to crime fighting.

"A lot of people have the misconception that Springfield is the wild, wild West," he said.

The number of aggravated assaults has decreased from 2,247 to 1,216 from 1999 to 2009, while burglaries totaled 3,043 and 2,068, respectively, and forcible rapes decreased from 132 to 116.

"We don't want to go up from last year. We want to keep the status quo," Delaney said of the statistics.

Springfield's law enforcement officials meet weekly to review the previous week's crime reports, he explained, and to map out target areas for police saturation, especially in those areas that have seen an increase in crime such as murder and non-negligent manslaughter, robberies and larceny-theft.

Murder and non-negligent manslaughter tallied seven in 1999 and 16 in 2009, while robberies totaled 490 and 581, respectively, and larceny-theft increased from 4,591to 4,615 in the past 10 years.

Chicopee Chief of Police John Ferraro attributed his city's reduction in the number of major crimes to responsible citizenry and quality officers.

"We're fortunate that we have a partnership with our citizens and they do call and they do nip things in the bud before it gets out of control. I'm also very impressed with the motivation of our officers," he said.

Chicopee registered only 210 aggravated assaults in 2009 as opposed to 1,108 in 1999; 450 burglaries in 2009 compared to 883 in 1999; 23 incidents of forcible rape last year, down from 29 in 1999. The number of larceny-theft cases did increase, however, from 838 in 1999 to 1,119 last year.

Agawam Police Chief Robert Campbell attributed his department's success to strong fiscal management, an increased police presence on the streets and revolutionized technological support over the past decade.

"When I first came in as chief in 1994, we had a couple of free standing computers and it was like Fred Flintstone using an abacus, but now, with the advent of technology, we can put out bulletins and saturate that area with [police] coverage," Campbell explained.

"There are so many things that have changed," he continued. "We have a lot of new, young cops that are aggressive and older cops that are street savvy."

The number of aggravated assaults has decreased from 246 to 48 over the past decade, while burglaries slid from 154 to 69; the number of larceny-theft incidents decreased from 325 to 181 in 2009 as well as the incidents of robbery. Statistical increases have been in the number of forcible rapes from two to four documented cases.

Cities such as Holyoke and smaller municipalities such as Longmeadow and East Longmeadow have seen some jumps in certain major crime categories.

Holyoke showed an increase in the number of aggravated assaults, burglaries and forcible rapes and larceny-thefts. The number of murder and non-negligent manslaughter cases and robberies decreased.

East Longmeadow and Longmeadow posted increases in burglaries, up by 64 cases and 20 cases, respectively. East Longmeadow was able to decrease the number of aggravated assaults, while Longmeadow showed an increase.

"You're never going to completely eliminate crime but you can try to make your corner of the world better," Ragazzini said.

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